An analysis piece in the Ukrainian military issues website Defense Express (DE) on Thursday, June 13 points out some odd features surrounding the crash of a Russian Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber into a mountain near the village of Dzuarikau in the Alagirsky District of the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, close to the border with Georgia on Tuesday, June 11.

The official announcement from Russia’s aerospace forces said that the aircraft suffered a technical malfunction during a routine training flight and crashed killing the two-man crew.

The DE analysis piece suggests that there may have been more to the incident than meets the eye and seeks to rationalize the inconsistencies it finds in the official (and unofficial) statements.

The first piece of the puzzle according to DE is why there would be a requirement for a training flight in the Caucasus mountains at night. Flying jet aircraft in mountainous areas is an advanced skill, let alone at night with peaks in the area as high as 5,000 meters (16,000 feet). It also suggests that carrying out a training flight in border regions is not normal - the crash site was only around 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the border with Georgia.

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The article cites a Telegram post by the Russian milblogger “Fighterbomber” which suggested that the aircraft was transferring to another unnamed airfield. DE points out that the Russian defense ministry said the aircraft took off from the Mozdok airfield and unless it was flying towards the Khankala airfield near Grozny, which is 150 kilometers (90 miles) from the crash site, there are no Russian military airfields south of there.

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The next clue that something was off cited by DE was the purely factual statements given by the Russian authorities and media in reporting the crash. It said that traditionally accounts are embellished telling how heroic pilots gave their lives steering a malfunctioning aircraft away from inhabited areas such as villages. The article also says that it is unusual for the names of the pilots to be held back whether on training or operational sorties.

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There have been recent crashes of Su-34 and other Russian military aircraft during both training and operational flights. Military commentators have previously suggested this is down to the replacement of experienced pilots on combat missions in Ukraine resulting in their raw replacements being faced with restricted training periods and poor maintenance and safety standards.

In October 2022, an Su-34 crashed into a residential building in Yeysk, in Russia‘s southern Krasnodar region killing 15 civilians and another crashed during a training flight in Russia‘s Voronezh region, close to Ukraine‘s eastern Luhansk region in mid-September 2023. Reports suggest that as many as 50 of the Su-34 aircraft have been lost in Russia since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine with a large proportion falling from the sky because of technical faults.

DE thinks the most likely explanation for Tuesday’s crash is that the Su-34 crew was attempting to defect, suggesting that by flying through mountains could have been an attempt to evade detection by Russian radar. It also contends that the route taken offered the shortest escape route to Turkey

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The crash site‘s location suggests a logical escape route with a destination point in Turkey, which was the destination favored by eight previous attempts, five successful, during Soviet times – the first being in 1948 and the last in 1989.

DE itself says that the crash followed an unsuccessful escape attempt is speculative, it suggests a logical explanation for the unusual circumstances surrounding the incident.

Another explanation is that the location, timing and reluctance to release details by the Russian authorities could indicate that the aircraft and crew were engaged on either training for or carrying out a sensitive military mission close to or perhaps inside North Ossetia or Georgia.

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